10 on the 10th – February 2018

The last ten films I’ve watched hit me where I live, although often in unusual ways. My Journey Through French Cinema is la cataire for French cinephiles – bring on Volume 2Hype! reminds me of everything I loved about mid-’90s rock and why I still wince at hearing Nirvana covers. Call Me by Your Name was bucolic and sensual, Scum of the Earth! earns its reputation as cinema’s first “roughie,” and The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant is a single-set pressure cooker of love and obsession, pleas and rebukes, victims and victimizers, and doms and subs. Perhaps most memorable was My Entire High School Sinking Into the Sea, which plays like Wes Anderson’s trippy remake of The Poseidon Adventure replacing the boat for a high school and its passengers with teenaged Peanuts characters.

  1. Scum of the Earth! (Herschell Gordon Lewis, 1963)
  2. Operation Lipstick (Umetsugu Inoue, 1969)
  3. The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant (Rainer Werner Fassbinder, 1972)
  4. Tales of Masked Men (Carlos Ávila, 2012)
  5. Call Me by Your Name (Luca Guadagnino, 2017)
  6. Elegant Beast (Yuzo Kawashima, 1962)
  7. My Journey Through French Cinema (Bertrand Tavernier, 2016)
  8. Hype! (Doug Pray, 1996)
  9. My Entire High School Sinking Into the Sea (Dash Shaw, 2016)
  10. Tributes: Pulse (Bill Morrison, 2011)

I watched Tributes: Pulse in anticipation of seeing Bill Morrison speak at my local cinematheque about Dawson City: Frozen Time. Morrison provided various observations:

  • The film was funded primarily by European television, with most of the money going to licensing City of Gold and the Chaplin footage;
  • It was important to Morrison that Dawson City be understood as a documentary and not one of his more experimental works, and so Morrison chose to start the film with footage of him on a sports show being interviewed about the baseball footage unearthed at the Dawson City Film Find;
  • Morrison remarked that the baseball footage included highlights of the 1919 World Series and even included footage of a specific play that was contested during the Black Sox scandal’s legal trial;
  • As Morrison was a baseball fan, it was misreported at the time that he was actually working on a film about the Black Sox, not the Dawson City Film Find;
  • Morrison acknowledged the influences of Guy Maddin and Thom Andersen, and his choice to include onscreen text citing the title and source of the films that appear in Dawson City was inspired by Andersen’s similar approach in Los Angeles Plays Itself. The director did consider not using such text, but felt it was important to emphasize the scale of the content found in Dawson City;
  • Despite finding 533 silent film reels, no complete version of any film was discovered in Dawson City;
  • The sound design of Dawson City is complex. Morrison availed himself of a program that converts visual content to sound by breaking down the film image into dark and light portions and deriving an optical track. As a result, Morrison created an individual soundtrack to each silent film that plays beneath the conventional sound design;
  • Morrison runs his deteriorated film footage at a slower rate than normal partly to avoid that “sped-up” feel that happens to early cinema and partly because the deterioration becomes discernible and able to be appreciated only at the lower speed;
  • Content from the Dawson City Film Fund that dovetailed with contemporary social justice issues was specifically chosen for inclusion and the mention of Trump was no passing accident;
  • Morrison’s practice in constructing the film was to immerse himself into the film for three week periods, editing constantly in an effort to appreciate the film in its entirety;
  • The exposure of the unearthed film to warmer temperatures severely changed the composition of the nitrate film, allowing the emulsion to be wiped off with a fingertip. The Canadian Archives were required to develop new restoration techniques to preserve the films, the most effective of which was passing the film through a water bath that caused the emulsion to once again firm up;
  • After the film was restored, the American films were repatriated back to the National Film Registry, apparently done by two guys in a station wagon filled with nitrate film and shortly after the disastrous vault fire in Suitland, Maryland;
  • Morrison is essentially a one-man operation but he was greatly appreciative to the National Archives and to the amateur historians in Dawson City who provided him with extensive research whenever asked.

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